The Greeks in Sicily
with Chris Downing

April 28-May 12, 2018

We will be exploring Sicily along a circular route that begins with arrivals at the airport in Catania and with a few days in Siracusa, where the Greeks arrived and where the golden age of Sicily first flowered. We will be visiting at an ideal time. As Goethe wrote of his only visit to Sicily, “Never in my life have I enjoyed such a vision of spring.”

Chris Downing will be offering early evening lectures on several of the days as indicated below.

Saturday, April 28 

Arrival in Catania. You will be met at the airport and taken to our hotel in the ancient city center of Siracusa, Ortigia. We will have a welcome gathering at our hotel in the late afternoon, during which you will meet Toni D’Anca and our tour leader. You will also have an opportunity to briefly introduce yourselves. Chris will talk about the role of Sicily in the classical world. This will be followed by a welcome dinner (included) at a favorite Siracusa restaurant. We will stay at Hotel Livingston overlooking the Ionian Sea.  

Sunday, April 29

Our first morning will focus on a tour of Siracusa, beginning with the world’s only surviving ancient Greek fort, Castello Eurialo, which overlooks the coast, and continuing on to one of the world’s finest Greek Theatres, to the so-called Ear of Dionysius, and the Roman Amphitheatre. In the afternoon we will take a walk around the island-peninsula of Ortigia—its palaces, narrow lanes, unique cathedral built within a Greek temple, the Jewish Quarter, the Cathedral, and the Arethusa fountain. Chris’ lecture will focus on the Demeter and Persephone myth. We will again stay at Hotel Livingston.

Monday, April 30 

In the morning we will visit the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum with its fascinating archaeological collections. After lunch we will go by bus to the high plateau town of Enna, where (at least according to Ovid) Hades abducted Persephone. We will have dinner together (included) and spend the night in Piazza Armerina at Torre di Renda, a country farmhouse with a panoramic view of the city and surrounding hillsides. 

Tuesday, May 1

In the morning we will visit the villa at Piazza Armerina, perhaps the most "Roman" place on the Island, with its amazing mosaic floors that depict a rich variety of classical myths. Then we travel across rolling countryside to the remote vineyards of Cantina Bagliesi for a tour and light lunch (included) and continue on country roads to Agrigento. Chris will lecture on the deities honored in the major temples we’ll be visiting the next day. We will stay at Hotel Colleverde overlooking the sea and the Valley of the Temples.

Wednesday, May 2

In the morning we will visit the Valley of the Temples, including the misnamed Temple of Concord (perhaps the best preserved of all Greek temples anywhere), and those dedicated to Hera, the Chthonic Deities (later identified as Demeter and Persephone), Zeus, Heracles, and the Dioscuri. The afternoon is free followed by a group dinner (included). We will stay again at Hotel Colleverde.   

Thursday, May 3

We will spend the morning at the Archaeological Museum in Agrigento, with its superb collection of black-figured and red-figured Attic vases. We will discover how vases don’t just illustrate myths, they re-envision them. The afternoon is free with an early evening lecture by Chris on the treasures of Selinunte, our destination the next day. We will stay again at Hotel Colleverde. 

Friday, May 4

We will travel west along the less visited south coast to the extensive temple site at Selinunte (sometimes described as the most extraordinary assemblage of ruins in all of Europe), beautifully situated on an evocative windswept coast. We will drive through Marsala to the salt flats and romantic windmills of far western Sicily. Before dinner (included), Chris’ lecture will focus on the temple and theater at Segesta. We will stay overnight in Baglio Oneto, a restored nobleman’s estate in the countryside.

Saturday, May 5

In the morning we will drive to the beautiful and rarely visited temple and theatre at Segesta, a town that Virgil tells us was founded by Aeneas when he came to Sicily after abandoning Dido. We will then drive on to Palermo. Chris will lecture on the myths depicted on the Selinunte metopes, which we will get to see in the Palermo museum on the following day. We will have dinner together at a restaurant noted for its traditional Sicilian cuisine (included) and stay overnight in Palermo at the historic Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa. 

Sunday, May 6

In the morning we will visit the Archeological Museum in Palermo, which may contain the richest collection of Greek sculpture to be found anywhere, including the beautiful metopes illustrating the stories of Perseus and Medusa, Artemis and Actaeon, Heracles and the Amazon queen, Zeus and Europa, and countless others. After lunch there will be an optional walking tour of the sites of old Palermo, including the Palatine Chapel and La Martorana. We will stay overnight in Palermo at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa.

Monday, May 7

In the morning, we will visit the Norman cathedral of Monreale, with its impressive mosaic narrative cycle. We will then drive along the coast to the seacoast town of Cefalù, where swimming will be possible. We continue to our hotel, Relais Sant’Anastasia, in an ancient abbey where wine has been made for a thousand years.  The lecture will focus on myths associated with Mt. Etna. Dinner (included) will feature an organic wine tasting.

Tuesday, May 8

In the morning we will make our way two-thirds up the south slopes of Mt. Etna to the Rifugio Sapienza area, and then drive on to Taormina, nestled between the Sicilian sea and the mountains, where we will spend the night at two elegent hotels next to each other, Albergo Villa Belvedere and Hotel Villa Diodoro.

Wednesday, May 9

In the morning we will undertake a walking tour of Taormina, focusing on the Graeco-Roman theatre with its famous view of the coastline and of Mt. Etna. The afternoon is free. Chris will lecture on Greek drama, particularly on the tragedy we will attend together on Friday night. Overnight again at Albergo Villa Belvedere and Hotel Villa Diodoro.

Thursday, May 10

A free day to enjoy Taormina, a spectacularly beautiful city, as Goethe, Maupassant, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, and countless more recent visitors, all attest. We finish the formal part of our tour with a late afternoon gathering with prosecco and “aperitivi” and a chance to reflect together on what we have shared during these two weeks, followed by an “Arrivederci“ dinner at a favorite local restaurant (included). Overnight again at Albergo Villa Belvedere and Hotel Villa Diodoro.

Friday, May 11

We return to Siracusa where in the evening we will have the opportunity to attend the performance of a Greek tragedy (in Italian) in the beautiful ancient Greek theatre (included). We cannot think of a better way of ending an exploration of the Greeks in Sicily! Overnight at Hotel Mercure.

Saturday, May 12

We will provide transportation to the Catania airport for your flight home.